Monday, December 17, 2007

The F-16's Staying Power

Here is another article (after this one) on America's hardest working jet fighter, the venerable F-16 Freedom Fighter, and why we might should keep it around:

Some skeptics have wondered why U.S. officials are investing nearly $300 billion to develop and buy the F-35 when the F-16, which costs about $40 million per jet, has proven so popular and easily upgradeable that 24 countries have bought them, many as repeat customers.

"There's a pretty good argument to keep building new F-16s forever," said Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow and military analyst at the Brookings Institution. "It's hard to say you can get a better bang for your buck."

Reason for its staying power? Besides the low cost compared to modern stealth planes, it has become extremely adaptable to new roles:

Bill McHenry is in charge of selling them for Lockheed. As he puts it, "This is not your father's F-16." Asked why, he ticks off a slew of technological upgrades. The F-16 has gone from having minimal radar ability in the 1970s to having some of the latest air-to-air and air-to-ground radars. Countries such as Greece, which doesn't have in-air fuel tankers, have requested that extra gas tanks be fitted on top of the planes. Lockheed obliged. The F-16 now has helmet mounted cueing, which displays targeting information on the visor of the pilot's helmet.

Today's warfare is not so much about the platform itself, but what the plane is carrying. This is why UAVs are so crucial despite being basically model airplanes for military use: the new advanced sensors and precision weapons they carry. The F-16 could easily load the same new smart bombs and air-to-air missiles which the increasingly unaffordable, F-35s and F-22 Raptor carry, at about 1/2 to 1/4 the price tag.